Volunteers with Sew The Curve Flat create handmade masks for those in short supply

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) – Volunteers across the region are working to help make supplemental personal protective equipment (PPE) for local doctors' offices and other emergency personnel.

WDBJ7 photo

They're part of a network called Sew The Curve Flat.

The volunteers give their time to sew dozens of handmade, fabric face masks and donate them to businesses, fire departments and small clinics were there is limited supply.

One of those volunteers is Randi Wiesjahn, the costume shop manager at Radford University.

At the time, when Radford had extended their spring break, Wiesjahn began looking for ways to offer her skills to the community.

What started as a post on Facebook to offer help, eventually turned into multiple requests from people in the area, and afar, for masks.

Depending on the type of the mask, it can take anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes per mask to make. So far, Wiesjahn has made about 70 masks that have gone to various areas in the Valley. The farthest she has shipped was to Indianapolis, Indiana.

“It feels great to be able to help,” Wiesjahn said. “Especially when so many of us feel like we can't do anything to fix the problem. So you're feeling kind of helpless and to have some sort of way to help, even if it's small, or just helping people feel safer, the smallest amount makes me feel good.”

Now while these fabric masks don't prevent anyone from getting coronavirus, they can help stop the spread of COVID-19. They can also help extend the life of an N-95 medical mask when placed on top, and can serve as a reminder to avoid touching your face.

Wiesjahn said that aid for prevention can make a big difference during this crisis. She’s also seen many people from other communities show an interest to get involved in similar projects like these. Seeing that interest makes Wiesjahn feel good.

"It's amazing to see all these people who are sewers and seamstresses, or barely know how, but are willing to learn so that they can help their community,” Wiesjahn said. “I think that's been one of the best things in all of this. Everything seems so dreary and awful right now, we're all stuck at home, but you've got these communities everywhere who are coming together to try to provide this service that people can't find elsewhere and I think that's really great."

Another volunteer in the region is Jennie Ruhland, an assistant professor of design at Radford University. Ruhland specializes in costume design and costume construction at Radford and when schools in Virginia had closed for the unforeseeable future, she started looking for ways to offer her services and supplies.

Ruhland found out about Sew The Curve Flat through a forum on Facebook and signed up to be a volunteer. She also reached out to friends on Facebook to see if there was a need in the community.

Requests started to pour in from people who were connected with local businesses, fire departments and small clinics. To help with all the orders, Ruhland recruited her mom, Rebecca Newman, to help.

So far, Ruhland has made about 30 masks in her spare time, while working from home and homeschooling her two kids. Newman has made about 55 masks.

Some of Ruhland’s masks were recently accepted by the Salem Fire and EMS Department, who took to Facebook to say ‘thank you’ in a post to their donor.

"I'm just glad I can help,” Ruhland said. “Because I love the fact the people are sewing and I love the fact that I can sew and help out, and I can stay home and do it as well. So just the fact that I don't feel hopeless or helpless at home is big to me, and they (the Salem Fire Department) are just so appreciative and they’re out there putting themselves on the line everyday, and the fact they can't get basic masks and things like that, it just upsets me so if I can help out, great, that's what I'm looking to do."

“It feels very empowering to sit behind a sewing machine and actually do something to help people.” Newman said.

Needless to say, both Ruhland and Newman have had some challenges along the way, such as supplies, like fabric or elastic, running out. But they’ve had a lot of support from friends from all over.

“I have a group of friends, we like to call ourselves ‘The Jewels’,” Newman said. “They all have contributed in some way to help me make a mask.”

At one point, Newman had run out of fabric, and asked them for help. Within minutes, she received donations coming from across the country and across the world, that would go toward buying more supplies.

Ruhland and Newman said if any groups of essential employees are in need of masks, please reach out to them. Large companies can register on sewthecurveflat.com. And if there are any seamstresses that may have extra 100 percent cotton fabric or 1/4” elastic lying around and would like to donate it to please consider donating it to them. You can contact them by clicking here.

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